JAIMIE VERNON – OH! CANADA? THE OTHER SONGS OF MY PEOPLE

vernon_1997Tuesday marks the 147th birthday of this great Dominion known as Canada.  Though we’re not quite as old as our brother to the south, our European lineage dates back to May 2, 1670 when the Dread Pirate Ernie Hudson got his ship stranded in the northern waters of the arctic looking for a direct passage to Santa’s Workshop. He and the crew survived on nothing but Her Queen’s Own Biscuits, Tea Hudsons BayCandles and striped blankets knitted from the wool of extinct mammoths. The native population had already been here 11,000 years longer and resented the idea that you now had to trade 10 beaver pelts to get a birch bark canoe. We’ve come a long way since then but still pride ourselves on our cultural diversity, beavers, hockey and fornicating while watching hockey. Oh, and we seem to be able to write a mean ditty (not “diddy” you internet meme idiots).

Let’s face it. When the desire to do snow-fueled sportsing wears thin in a perpetual winter wonderland, thoughts turn to drinking excessively and singing, ahem, boisterously. The Molson’s brewing company even has a beer cooler that’ll only open if you sing ‘O Canada’. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/o-canada-beer-fridge-opens-only-for-canadians-who-know-anthem-1.1887236

And nothing says ‘Canadian’ more than songs about Bobcaygeon, Tillsonburg, or running back to Saskatoon.  Arguably, we can write the shit out of a song better than anyone – Tillsonburgespecially songs about obscure back-forest logging communities or shipwrecks. We’ve spent the last 65 years driving the pop charts on both sides of the border starting with country legends Hank Snow (who wrote the ageless “I’ve Been Everywhere”) and Wilf Carter [aka Montana Slim] through doo-wop era groups like The Four Lads and The Diamonds and the teen heart-throbs Paul Anka and Terry Black and rock groups like The Guess Who and Steppenwolf and folk artists such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Currently, we dominate the pop charts as well with the likes of Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé, Celine Dion, Nickelback, Carly Rae Jepsen and Drake. You might hate them but that’s a pretty awesome (and statistical improbable) track record for a country with a population smaller than Kenya. Let’s face it, we’re pretty loveable apologetic peacekeepers, eh? 

People really like our music. Especially outside our own country. Our secret weapon is exceptional songwriting. It’s why The Guess Who, April Wine, BTO, Rush, Honeymoon Suite, Bob_and_DougLoverboy and Bob & Doug McKenzie managed to get a foot in the door in the United States. And even if you don’t like our front line exports like Bieber or Nickelback, we’ll make damn sure you’re going to hear our songs regardless. In fact, we’ve a secret battle plan of songwriting subterfuge by sneaking into your playlists for decades – on the albums of your favourite international stars. Here for your dining-and-dashing pleasure are the often-sung heroes of Canadian songwriting:

PAUL ANKA
PaulAnka
The Justin Bieber of the late 1950s became a star in his early teens with a self-penned tune called “Diana”. It made #1 in July 1957 on Billboard turning Anka into an overnight teen hearthrob – especially with two knicker wetting follow-up ballads: “Lonely Boy” and “Puppy Love” (both tunes used effectively by Mormon periodontally enhanced singer Donny Osmond in the 1970s). What many don’t know is that Anka was a rarity among solo performers during that period – he wrote his own material. And he never stopped. He wrote material for Odia Coates (and dueted on the eternally offensive “Having My Baby”) and DJ turned singer Don Goodwin with the 1974 hit “This Is Your Song”. But, you might know him better from his two biggest international compositions: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (an English translation of the Parissienne song by Claude François, Jacques Revaux, Gilles Thibault) and The Tonight Show theme song aka “Johnny’s Theme” aka “It’s Really Love”.

54.40 (re: Neil Osborne)
54-40In 1996, on the back of a gabillion selling album called ‘Cracked Rear View’, the world’s most milktoast lounge act led by a cardigan-wearing black man called Hootie & The Blowfish added the song “I Go Blind” to the soundtrack album for the ‘Friends’ TV series – it had initially been the B-side to their 1994 hit “Hold My Hand”. The song was released as a single in its own right and peaked at #22 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart as well as #3 on the Adult Top 40 chart. What no one knew then, and few know now, is that the song was a bubbling under alternative radio hit in Canada for Vancouver’s 54.40 in 1986. The song was the second single from their debut album after “Baby Ran” and was written by vocalist/guitarist Neil Osborne. Though 54.40 have never had the success outside of Canada that they enjoy at home, they can make a claim for introducing a generation of grunge rockers in Seattle to flannel. Both 54.40 and punk band DOA sported the Kenora dinner jackets on many commando jaunts into the Pacific Northwest throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

JONI MITCHELL
Though she would make her mark as folk acoustic performer in Canadian coffee-houses in the mid-1960s, Mitchell was a songwriting and vocal force to be reckoned with. She’s also only one JoniMitchellof two women to ever make it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarist list. She’s had hits of her own like “Raised On Robbery”, “Help Me”, “Free Man In Paris” with the most covered being “Big Yellow Taxi” by acts as diverse as Amy Grant and Counting Crows. But it’s the unlikely songs in her oeuvre that made Mitchell a songwriting superstar when they became identifiable with others. “Woodstock” would be covered by Crosby, Stills & Nash and Judy Collins would help launch Mitchell’s rise to orbit with a cover of “Both Sides, Now” in 1967. But the most unlikely of Mitchell songs to become a hit is “This Flight Tonight” now a Classic Rock staple by Scottish pub rockers Nazareth. You know their hit. Now hear her original.

INDIO (re: Gordon Peterson)
INDIO was the nom de plume of Toronto singer/songwriter Gordon Peterson. Peterson had a chance meeting with British guitarist David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel, Gowan). Peterson would Indioeventually be introduced to Joni Mitchell’s manager/husband Larry Klein who helped Peterson secure a record deal with A & M Records based on the strength of his demos. His debut album, ‘Big Harvest’, was released in 1989. The album’s first single “Hard Sun” – featuring backing vocals by Joni Mitchell – was released in June 1989 and cracked the Canadian Top20 charts.  By 1990, with pressure to perform live and his general distaste in the machinery of the music business, Peterson walked away from the music biz. Fast forward as Peterson made a brief appearance in the news when he filed a lawsuit in July 2009 against Paramount Pictures, Sony Music, Starbucks and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for alleged infringement of copyright from the use and alteration of Vedder’s remake of “Hard Sun” in the Sean Penn-directed movie ‘Into The Wild’ as well as its sale on the movie’s soundtrack through retailers like Starbucks. Peterson’s former label A & M (via parent company Universal whom he also sued) cleared use of the song, but they did it without Peterson’s permission. The lawsuit has yet to be settled. Vedder made the song a hit in the US. Here’s the 1988 INDIO original featuring Joni Mitchell.

EDDIE SCHWARTZ
Toronto’s Eddie Schwartz first gained a foothold in the Canadian music scene as guitarist in Charity Brown’s backing band. In 1976 he ventured out on his own as a solo artist and became EddieSchwartza staff songwriter with ATV Music. With the completion of his first solo album for Infinity Records, the label went bankrupt and the album ended up with A & M. The lead single was “Two Hearts Full Of Love” followed by “Does A Fool Ever Learn”. Meanwhile, a demo he had sent out in search of a solo deal made its way into the hands of Pat Benatar who recorded his tune “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” becoming Benatar’s 3rd Top-10 hit after “Heartbreaker” and “We Live For Love”. Though Schwartz continued releasing his own records – ‘No Refuge’ (1981) and ‘Public Life’ (1983) – it was the material for others that gained him an international reputation as a world class songwriter. To wit: “Does A Fool Ever Learn” (Helix), “Two Wrongs” (Joe Cocker), “Don’t Shed A Tear” (Paul Carrack), “Tonight” (Amii Stewart), plus A-list artists like Peter Frampton, Carly Simon, Meatloaf, Robert Palmer, Jeffrey Osbourne, Donna Summer, Martina McBride, Gowan, and the final hit by the reunited Doobie Brothers in the 1990s.

IAN THOMAS
Americans only have two frames of reference for legendary Canadian hitmaker/songwriter Ian Thomas (brother of SCTV’s Dave Thomas) – as the occasional guest on the ‘Red Green’ TV ian thomasshow and from his Neil Youngesque 1973 Billboard Top 40 hit “Painted Ladies”. Few would ever associate Thomas with a couple of big Top40 hits by international acts in the 1980s. Credit Thomas with penning the #22 Billboard hit “The Runner” by Manfred Mann and the #15 Billboard hit “Hold On” by Santana. Deep track fans might be interested to know that he also wrote “Right Before Your Eyes” (America), “To Comfort You” (Bette Midler), “Chains” (Chicago) plus Australian hits for Daryl Braithwaite in “As the Days Go By” (#10), and “All I Do” (#12). Thomas was no slouch on the Canadian charts in comparison. “Painted Ladies” (#5), “Hold On” (#13), “Right Before Your Eyes” (#28) and “Chains” (#18).

BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE
During the frenzied folk explosion of the mid-1960s that launched the careers of Canadians Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen came global humanitarian and pacifist Buffy Sainte-Marie – a Canadian-American Cree. With her endless touring as a solo Original photography by Jack Robinson. www.robinsonarchive.comsinger/songwriter in coffee houses from Yorkville to Greenwich Village to Haight-Ashbury, Marie gained a huge fanbase of other artists wanting to cover her songs. “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, has been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Mike Nesmith, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, Roberta Flack, Cher, Maureen McGovern, and Bobby Darin; “Cod’ine”, was covered by Donovan, Janis Joplin, The Charlatans, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Man,, The Leaves, The Barracudas and most recently by Courtney Love; But the song that has come to define Marie as a songwriter and activist was the 1963 anthem “Universal Soldier” after witnessing the return of Viet Nam soldiers from a war that the United States was denying any involvement in. “Donovan” managed a hit with the tune in 1965 and it has since been covered by nearly two dozen artists including a re-written rebuttal by Jan & Dean’s Jan Berry in 1965 called “Universal Coward”; And before you think that Sainte-Marie only worked on the protest song fringe, she even enjoyed Top40 success in co-writing the Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’ soundtrack hit “Up Where We Belong” with Will Jennings and 3rd husband/producer Jack Nitzsche.

MARC JORDAN
Originally a guitarist for crooner Bobby Vee, Jordan found notoriety on three back-to-back albums for Warner Bros. that did little in the USA despite the seminal Canadian hits “Marina MarcJordanDel Rey” and “Survival”. Marc decided that if he wanted to make it stateside he had to move there. Relocating to L.A. in the early ’80’s he became a session musician/songwriter for the likes of Juice Newton, Diana Ross, Chicago and The Manhattan Transfer. He also carried on his solo pursuits. Fast-forward to 1991 where Rod Stewart is putting together the ‘Vagabond Heart’ album. His UK label, WEA, put the pressure on Stewart to add a sure-fire single to kick the album off. The chairman of the label, Rob Dickens, remembered a 1984 demo by Marc Jordan and John Capek called “Rhythm Of My Heart” and Stewart loved the rough, bagpipe-laced demo. Trevor Horn (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Buggles, Seal) produced the track and it became a million selling single that propelled the album to triple platinum. Jordan soon became a go-to writer and has penned material for Diana Ross and Cher among others.

ROLF KEMPF
Possibly the most obscure name on this songwriting list, Rolf Kempf is a jazz/blues multi-instrumentalist who has flown under the radar for a career that spans nearly 50 years. The rolfandalicecooperbackstage2reason you’ve heard of him is Alice Cooper. Rolf wrote “Hello Hooray” as heard on the 1973 Alice Cooper Band album ‘Billion Dollar Babies’. The song reached #6 on the UK Singles Chart in 1973, #6 in the Netherlands, #13 in Germany, #14 in Ireland, #16 in Austria chart, and #35 on the Billboard Hot 100. Kempf’s modest acoustic demo and Judy Collins’ previous 1968 cover version was used as the basis for producer Bob Ezrin to make the song sound like “Alice Cooper meets Cabaret”. The song has had a recent revitalization in the soundtrack to the new ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ film.

IAN & SYLVIA TYSON
FourStrongWindsFolk music doesn’t come any more authentic than it did from former First Couple Ian & Sylvia Tyson. They enjoyed nearly a decade as international folk sweethearts before divorcing and re-inventing themselves as country artists. But their legacy remains entrenched in Pop and Rock forever. Ian Tyson wrote “Four Strong Winds” – a song that defined both Neil Young and Bob Dylan as songwriters – while Sylvia wrote “You Were On My Mind”. A song that became the first pop-folk cross-over hit for the We Five in 1965. For those that don’t believe Sylvia’s influence was as important as Ian’s need look no further than The Bangles:

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com orhttp://www.bullseyecanada.com

 

6 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – OH! CANADA? THE OTHER SONGS OF MY PEOPLE”

  1. Warren Cosford Says:

    How you wrote all of that and missed Canada’s first Rock Star makes me wonder if you’re really Canadian. While Paul Anka was on his way to being the Canadian Frank Sinatra, Windsor Ontario’s Jack Scott with Windsor Ontario’s Chantones placed 19 records on the Billboard Charts in the 42 months from June 1958 and November 1961 including 4 Top 10 Gold Records all, except 1, he also wrote. And Jack didn’t shuffle off to New York to find a producer and arranger to make him sound better…..he simply booked some overnight time in what was virtually Detroit’s only studio….and produced and arranged himself. But you’re not alone Jaimie. A couple of years ago in a MacLean’s Magazine Cover Story entitled The Prince of Pop, Brian D. Johnson claimed that Justin Bieber was “the first artist to chart seven singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with a debut album”. Not so. There is at least one other recording artist to achieve that feat. I’ll bet by now Jaimie….you might even be able to guess who that was!

    But Jack Scott’s influence as Canada’s first Rock Star goes beyond The Charts.

    In 1958, the album notes on Jack Scott’s first album begin by identifying him as Canadian. All the DJ’s mentioned it, many of my friends talked about it and more than a few of us bought musical instruments. You could be a Canadian, make Rock and Roll and get recorded?!!

    Yes we could. Yes we did.

    Today, when Jack Scott plays The ‘Peg, it’s not in a bar. It’s in an auditorium. And the MC is usually Burton Cummings.

    But Jaimie….you’re forgiven. This is only an article on The Internet. It’s not like you wrote an Encyclopedia or anything.

    • Jim Slotek Says:

      Interviewed Jack Scott a few years back. Apparently Elvis was a fan back in the day, and he would play The Way I Walk on whatever juke box had it. And might I suggest Eddie Schwartz for this list? Hit Me With your Best Shot pretty much defined Pat Benatar’s career

    • Warren,
      I guess you missed the point of the whole blog. Yes…Jack Scott is amazing. But he wasn’t writing songs for international stars who turned those songs into classics. Jack did Jack Scott like no one else could. But where are the Bon Jovi cover versions of his songs? Or Dick Dale’s re-imagining?

  2. Warren Cosford Says:

    Well….I just don’t understand how you can discuss Canada driving “65 years of the pop charts on both sides of the border”…..list Hank Snow, Wilf Carter, The Four Lads, The Diamonds and Terry Black for God’s sake…..and not mention Jack Scott.

    “Writing songs for international stars who turned those songs into classics”? Here are some “covers”. A few were never released in North America. One is in Spanish, another in Italian.

    STRANGE DESIRE – BEN VAUGHN – 1988/92
    I’M DREAMING OF YOU – ROBERT GORDON – 1991
    THE WAY I WALK – ROBERT GORDON – 1977
    THE WAY I WALK – THE CRAMPS – 1977
    THE WAY I WALK – THE VEES – 1998
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – SONNY JAMES – 1974
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – TAM WHITE – 1975
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – EDDIE ARNOLD – 1975
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – TOM JONES – 1981
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – WANDA JACKSON – 1988
    WHAT IN THE WORLD – SANDY MASON – 1961
    WHICH WAY SHALL I GO – SANDY MASON – 1961
    LEROY – CRAZY BOYS – 1997
    I NEVER FELT LIKE THIS – THE CARPETBAGGERS – 1998
    THE WAY I WALK – SWAMP ZOMBIES – 1993
    THE WAY I WALK – DANNY GATTON – 1996
    THE WAY I WALK – 68 COMEBACK – 1998
    MY TRUE LOVE – MINA (Italian) – 1999
    BURNING BRIDGES – GLEN CAMPBELL – 1967
    BURNING BRIDGES-CONNIE SMITH – 1964
    BURNING BRIDGES – GEORGE JONES – 1963

    It was The Way I Walk by The Cramps that introduced Jack to a new audience and was why The Garys invited him to perform at The Edge in 1978. The Robert Gordon version of the song was featured in the movie Natural Born Killers.

    I’d argue that one song alone is more of a “classic” than anything you might come up with by Terry Black.

  3. Jim Slotek Says:

    Doh!

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